ADAM – ‘The Early Years’

Our son Adam took his life at 3.30pm on April 26, 2011. It was Easter Tuesday. As we approach the 10th anniversary of his death, it is an opportune time to reflect on his life. Adam was much more than his violent death. He lived and loved, worked and played, hoped and dreamed, worshipped and witnessed. He was a son, a brother, an uncle, a cousin. He is forever an example of God’s handiwork and an object of His love.

It is the responsibility of those who are left, his family and friends, to keep his memory alive, and to ensure that he is honoured for the life he lived not the death he died.

Writing a truthful narrative of Adam’s life requires insight, wisdom, and kindness. It is a retelling of those events that live on in our hearts and minds.

His thirty years included moments of purpose and fulfillment as well as moments of confusion and doubt. There were highs and lows, success and failure, hope and despair. We celebrate all that was good and positive and life affirming. The darker moments are more difficult to process but are also deserving of our thoughtfulness and respect.

Adam was born at the Royal Women’s Hospital, Melbourne, on March 14, 1981. The Birthing Unit was considered innovative but remained under the supervision of the Maternity Ward. It was a supportive environment, where parents were given the freedom to decide how the birth should be approached. We welcomed their statement of belief which says, ’Every woman and every pregnancy is different. We believe that each birth is a natural and unique event.

I can remember holding Adam in my arms, looking out the window at the lights of Melbourne, contemplating the wonder and beauty of a new life, imagining where his life might take him, who he might become.

When Adam was 18 months old, he fractured his right leg while playing in the lounge room. He was admitted to the Children’s Ward of the Frankston Community Hospital. His legs were in traction for two weeks. We sat with him much of the day, but it was not possible to be there all the time. He was heard to say, “Mummy gone! Daddy gone.” When Adam was discharged from the hospital, he was encased in pelvic plaster from the waist down. This made moving about difficult. One of his creative solutions was to lie on his skateboard and propel himself forward.

While living in Mornington we had regular contact with my parents. Dad owned a small market garden in Pearcedale. We would visit regularly, helping with the weeding and harvesting, stocking up on fresh vegetables and going for walks along the quiet country roads. Adam enjoyed these excursions. He might see a a rabbit scurrying away into the blackberry patch, or a Willy Wagtail catching an insect. There were horses in some of the paddocks and chook sheds.

Adam was 4 years old when we moved to New Zealand. We caught the train from Wellington to Gisborne, a 10.5 hour journey. Adam delighted in the wild seas, the snow-capped mountains, the gorges, the viaducts, the tunnels, the deer farms, the millions of sheep, the tiny settlements, not to mention the freedom to move about on the train.

Gisborne is a city on the east coast of New Zealand’s North Island. It is the first city in the world to see the sun. It was to be our home for a couple of years. Adam thrived, making friends (maori and pakeha alike), exploring the beaches and rivers, and constructing things. He developed a passion for fishing and his fondness for animals was clear.

We would fish at the wharf, where the Turanganui River flowed into the sea. Adam would catch cockabullies (a small blunt-nosed freshwater fish) and yellow-eyed mullet. We used the latter as bait when fishing for Kahawai.

When we moved to a house in Wainui Road, we inherited a cat, ‘Snowboots,’ who later had a litter. We kept Larry, who became a favourite with Adam. Unfortunately, we had to leave Larry behind when we moved to Hastings. We also bought some battery hens who had lived their life caged up. They spent the first few days lying in the sun.  Adam would give them a cuddle. He was overjoyed when our neighbour’s dog gave birth to ten puppies. With a little encouragement they would all descend on our place.

Here is Adam’s account of ‘My Animals.’

We have four chooks and two cats. The cats are called Snowboots and Larry. Two dogs came around one night and got into the chook pen. Daddy and Mummy came out and saved the chooks. Snowboots had four kittens. We kept one of them and called him Larry. Larry climbs the trees, but he doesn’t catch any birds.  He likes to sleep inside the castle we made from papier mache.                                                         

ADAM RICKARD      7 years

While living in Gisborne, Adam experienced several earthquakes. As a family, we often argued about what to do – run outside, hide under the table, or stand in the doorway. One earthquake sent ripples across the surface of the ground. In March 1988 Cyclone Bola pounded the East Coast with up to a metre of rain over three days. The torrential downpour caused landslides, closed roads, and cut power and sewage services. Gisborne’s water supply was compromised.  Adam watched as his father got on his bicycle, balancing an assortment of plastic containers, and headed off to the supermarket carpark where a water truck waited with fresh drinking water.

Adam was home schooled until he was 8 years old. He was slow to read but showed an aptitude for practical activities. He was inclined to get distracted, wondering what his younger brother, Nicholas, was up to.

Adam commenced his formal education at the Hastings Christian School in 1990. He was an enthusiastic student and had beautiful handwriting. He developed a love of sport, particularly cricket and rugby and came second in an inter-school cross country race.

The boys played cricket in the backyard. Several windows were broken over the years. Inevitably, the ball would be hit over the back fence. Bertie, our elderly neighbour, was often mesmerised by all the activity. He was not impressed when a ball bounced off his roof and was reluctant to give it back. On one occasion, he notified the police, and they paid us a visit. The children were curious to see two uniformed constables in our kitchen.

On a holiday to Australia, Adam’s grandpa told him about a fishing excursion he had planned. He wanted to take Adam to the coastal township of Tooradin where the fishing could be good on the incoming tide. On the day, there was a sense of anticipation. Unfortunately, when they reached the tidal river, instead of fast flowing water they were greeted with mud and mangroves and crabs. A despondent grandpa had misread the tides. Not to be deterred, Adam went exploring and found a blue-tongued lizard under a bush. Their adventure, although not as intended, had a positive outcome.

Adam’s early years were positive, despite the odd setback. He was nurtured in a loving and supportive family environment where he received encouragement and affirmation. There was structure and discipline, but Adam was free to pursue his interests. Then there were the people who shared in our life. They had a positive influence on Adam and his development.

Change was a constant in Adam’s life. We moved regularly, six houses in eight years with a few shorter stays with other families as well. Relocating to another country was a major undertaking, although the children probably considered it an amazing adventure – new friends, new experiences, new culture.  I have often wondered how the lack of permanency played out in our children’s lives. Did Adam, for example, sense the fragility of our existence? Did uncertainty and insecurity become imbedded in his psychological make-up? Did the loss of friends and the many goodbyes unsettle him? Did he feel alone or neglected?

A broken leg and a stay in hospital was a big ordeal for a young Adam (and his parents). It was a traumatic experience, impacting his physical, emotional, and psychological equilibrium. Did it alter his view of life? Did he experience fear? Did he feel abandoned?

Researchers have found that childhood trauma can have a lasting impact on our lives. It is not possible to determine whether Adam was emotionally scarred by his experience or whether it made him stronger and more resilient.

Author: Bruce Rickard

Reflections on Suicide and Staying Alive: My son's suicide changed everything. I felt an obligation to understand why anyone would want to end their life. My regular blog posts explore the causes and prevalence of suicide and what is needed to sustain a healthy mind and a hope-filled future.

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